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Personal conduct, MPS and the Medical Council

MPS medicolegal adviser Dr Janet Page clarifies MPS’s position on assisting doctors with matters arising from personal conduct

As a discretionary mutual society, MPS exists for the benefit of its membership. Unlike commercial insurers, MPS is not-for-profit and hence subscriptions are set at the level required to meet our liabilities and not driven by shareholders looking for a return on their investment.

The interests of individual members seeking assistance have to be balanced against those of the wider membership, ensuring that costs (and hence, subscriptions) are kept as low as reasonably achievable whilst at the same time providing a quality service to members in need.

Subscriptions are set at the level required to meet our liabilities and not driven by shareholders looking for a return on their investment

MPS’s remit has remained unchanged since its formation in 1892, namely, to protect and safeguard the professional reputations of individual members and the professions to which they belong. MPS members are entitled to seek assistance in all matters in which their professional conduct or competence is called into question. This would include assistance in relation to criminal proceedings arising directly from the provision of clinical care to patients, for example, allegations of gross negligence manslaughter or sexual assault during the course of a clinical examination.

MPS may also exercise discretion to assist in defending allegations of fraud where these relate directly to professional practice, such as genuine errors on a CV or research fraud. It is unlikely that MPS would assist a member where there is evidence that he/she knowingly lied, broke the law or contravened their professional code of conduct.

Personal conduct

Matters of personal conduct, whether or not these occur in the working environment, or issues arising from the business aspects of practice would not normally fall within the scope of the benefits of membership, regardless of the forum in which the issue was being considered. Thus, MPS would be unlikely to assist in responding to complaints relating to matters such as overcharging, breach of advertising regulations, bullying or sexual harassment of staff or contractual disputes, although each case will be considered on its individual merits.

The range of matters that come before the Medical Council will vary between jurisdictions and reflect the individual regulatory requirements for practice in that country. Whilst the majority of complaints will relate to concerns about the standard of clinical care provided, Medical Councils will also concern themselves with a range of other issues from complaints about the business aspects of a doctor’s practice to convictions for shoplifting.

MPS members are entitled to seek assistance in all matters in which their professional conduct or competence is called into question

MPS has recently become aware of two areas of particular interest to Medical Councils in Asia. In Hong Kong, there has been an increase in the number of requests for assistance from members following receipt of a notification of inquiry by the Preliminary Investigation Committee for alleged failure to report, within the required timeframe, driving convictions punishable by imprisonment.

In Singapore, the SMC has referred a number of doctors to the Complaints Committee for practising without a valid Practising Certificate following failure to log the requisite number of CME points, again within the required timeframe.

MPS has recently become aware of two areas of particular interest to Medical Councils in Asia. In Hong Kong, there has been an increase in the number of requests for assistance from members following receipt of a notification of inquiry by the Preliminary Investigation Committee for alleged failure to report, within the required timeframe, driving convictions punishable by imprisonment.

In Singapore, the SMC has referred a number of doctors to the Complaints Committee for practising without a valid Practising Certificate following failure to log the requisite number of CME points, again within the required timeframe.

Although such matters may ultimately impact on a doctor’s registration and ability to practise, of themselves they do not arise directly from the practice of medicine and hence do not fall within scope of the benefits of membership. In exceptional circumstances, MPS has exercised discretion to assist members with such matters as in the case scenario below.

Case scenario

In 2001, MPS received a number of requests for assistance from members in Hong Kong in responding to PIC Notices of Inquiry for failure to report driving convictions punishable by imprisonment. Many doctors had been unaware of this obligation until a high-profile case was reported in the media in 2009, following which the doctors reported the conviction on each subsequent application for renewal of their practising certificates.

MPS exercised discretion to assist these doctors on the basis that there was evidence that the requirement to report the conviction was not well publicised before 2009

Notwithstanding that the doctors had rectified their earlier oversight, and that in one case, the conviction in question related to an incident 17 years earlier, the Medical Council proceeded to prosecute for failure to notify within the prescribed timeframe. MPS exercised discretion to assist these doctors on the basis that there was evidence that the requirement to report the conviction was not well publicised before 2009, and that all the doctors in question had subsequently rectified their error.

Learning points:

  • MPS obligations to its individual members has to be balanced against the duty to the wider membership to use funds wisely. 
  • Benefits of membership are for matters arising directly from the practice of medicine, namely professional conduct and/or competence. 
  • MPS will not normally assist in matters of personal conduct or those arising from the business aspects of practice. 
  • Members should ensure that they are aware of all reporting obligations placed on them by the Medical Council as MPS is unlikely to assist with any investigation into a failure to comply with the regulator’s stipulations.
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